Actually, this is what James Dolan meant when he said the Knicks will “have a successful free agency.”
Team president Steve Mills, speaking publicly for the first time since Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spurned MSG to play in Brooklyn, gushed about his contingency plan signings that were highlighted by Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington and Elfrid Payton.
That list isn’t what fans or media envisioned when Dolan proclaimed in March “from what we’ve heard, we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” But Mills said the owner understood this was one of the options.
“Jim knew we were going to have a successful free agency period and we feel like we did that,” Mills said. “He was on board with what we were doing and one of the rosters that he saw well in advance of free agency looks like what we’re going to put out on the floor this year.”
Despite their enthusiasm for the results of their $70 million summer spending, the Knicks were again careful to temper expectations and wouldn’t commit to a playoff goal. The franchise has not been in a postseason since 2013, the longest drought in the Eastern Conference. They tied a franchise record with 65 losses last season while trading disgruntled All-Star Kristaps Porzingis for cap space.
“We are looking to get better every single day,” GM Scott Perry said. “This is how we’re going to compete on a daily basis. We expect every night we go out there to play we’re playing to win. We’re playing to win. We’re not in the prediction business. I’m not here to predict records. But I expect us to be better, an improved basketball team. I expect the team to grow and develop and to show that and exhibit that throughout the course of the season.”
The Knicks didn’t really address what happened with their superstar free agency chase or why they weren’t attractive to the main targets, chalking it up to players making personal decisions. The organization prepared an elaborate pitch for Durant but never got to use it. Irving also signed without meeting with the Knicks.
The free agent class also included Kawhi Leonard, Tobias Harris, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson.
“You’ll have to talk to those players about why they made the decision that they made,” Mills said. “There were a lot of max type players that we could have met with, that were interested in coming here. We had a certain way that we wanted to build this team. This is how we chose to build it.”
Not long after Irving and Durant committed to playing across the Manhattan Bridge, the Knicks agreed to sign multiple free agents, most notably Randle. They quickly released a statement acknowledging the fans’ disappointment. On Tuesday, Mills painted a rosy picture about their summer execution.
“Obviously based on the timeline and how we signed those guys it was clear they were on our radar and they were part of what we thought the future of the Knicks could be and what it should look like,” he said.
Six of the free agents the Knicks signed can become free agents again next summer, and Perry was again touting their “financial flexibility.”
“I don’t want to undersell the talent that we gathered,” Perry said. “These guys are very good basketball players, accomplished basketball players. They saw this as an opportunity really to grow themselves and contribute to a place that had a chance to win one day.”
Much of the criticism surrounding the Knicks’ free agency concerned their glut of power forwards, with Randle, Morris, Portis and Gibson all signed for big money. Perry pushed back at Media Day.
“A lot has been made of, ‘You signed four power forwards.’ I think if you examine our roster at the end of the year under contract we only had one frontcourt player and that was Mitchell Robinson, who will be a second year player,” Perry said. “So we were going to have to go out and stock our frontcourt. And each and every one of those players we signed played multiple positions. They’ve all played four and five, I think Bobby Portis started over half his games with the Wizards last year at the center position. So these guys can move around. We’re in an era of position-less basketball.”